MASVINGO — The new Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Ben Mahofa was a subject of funny jokes on the social media when she was appointed to the post by President Robert Mugabe in February.
By Tatenda Chitagu
Some joked that Mahofa (72), had literally “sang, danced and fainted for her supper.”
They were referring to an incident in December last year when Mahofa collapsed after spending two hours singing and dancing in the sun while waiting for First Lady Grace Mugabe to show up at the Zanu PF congress venue.
Mahofa replaced Kudakwashe Bhasikiti who was fired last month over his alleged association with axed former Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
Mujuru fell out with Mugabe over alleged plots to unseat the 91-year-old president through violence and witchcraft, charges the former VP strongly denies.
Mahofa’s elevation was long seen coming, even by her predecessor Bhasikiti who said he was not surprised to be sacrificed for the Gutu senator.
The First Lady, during her controversial “Meet the People” rallies in the run-up to the Zanu PF congress, hinted at Mahofa’s political resurrection, saying she was “her role model”.
And Grace did not end there. After the rally, she ignored Bhasikiti and then Zanu PF provincial chairman Killian Gwanetsa and nominated Mahofa to distribute the 20 tonnes of farming inputs she donated to the province.
With a month in office as Masvingo’s top government official and Mugabe’s representative in the province, Mahofa — nicknamed “Chikoforo” — has hit the ground running, stamping her authority and flexing muscle in an unexpected manner.
As a top Mujuru critic and mastermind of Grace’s elevation to become the powerful Zanu PF Women’s League chairperson, Mahofa first took aim at sugar producing Lowveld firm, Tongaat Hullett, demanding indigenisation compliance from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed company.
Before this, she had demanded that the company, accused of funding the Mujuru faction, cede 20 000 hectares of cane growing for indigenous farmers. The company is said to have offered only 4 000 hectares.
Mahofa later moved to a more contentious humanitarian issue concerning thousands of Tokwe Mukosi dam flood victims.
She announced that she would move the 18 000 victims housed in Nuanetsi Ranch in Mwenezi district to Chiumburu Farm in Chiredzi.
“People in Chingwizi will be moved to Chiumburu Farm where they will get five hectares per family,” she said.
The villagers are being moved to pave way for an ethanol plant to be set up by controversial business magnate, Billy Rautenbach.
The Ministry of Lands is said to have deployed teams to start pegging the plots at Chiumburu Farm.
Mahofa said the farm would be the flood victims’ final destination.
And as if that was not enough, last week she blocked Tourism minister Walter Mzembi from taking over part of a $2 million Masvingo hatchery farm from a white commercial poultry farmer, Hellen Mitchel.
“We are not saying Mzembi should not get a farm but the farm he was allocated, Barquest, is strategic to the province as it supplies day-old chicks that sustain the lives of ordinary people here,” said Mahofa.
But Mzembi accuses Mahofa of going against the party’s land grab policy.
“We should not look at the signature on the paper but on the merit of the process, of how the process was done. If it was not Mzembi on this farm it was going to be someone else. It is a government programme.
“I am not being unreasonable….if I wanted a farm so fast I could have done so a long time ago, but I followed procedure,” Mzembi said.
Many praised Mahofa’s decision not to disturb a productive farm and she was hailed “lady of the people”.
By shutting out Mzembi, who had already acquired an offer letter for the farm, Mahofa saved 200 workers and a $2 million project that churns out 100 000 chicks and 50 000 eggs a week.
However, the move may have factional undercurrents as Mzembi is linked to the Mujuru faction.
He had been purged from the party together with other senior party officials backing Mujuru but was saved by Mugabe for being “hardworking”.
At least 17 other ministers, top party officials linked to Mujuru and deputy ministers were relieved of their duties by Mugabe.
Mzembi last year criticised Mahofa and many other senior government officials, legislators, ministers and securocrats who had invaded Save Valley Conservancy in Chiredzi.
Last week, she promised 42 chiefs potions of land for growing cane in the Lowveld.
She also promised to deal with all land disputes in the province.
But such “early points” for Mahofa, which have earned her friends and foes alike, come after she had given the impression that she needed serious hand-holding from her political mentor, Chivi Mwenezi Senator Josiah Hungwe, the longest serving Masvingo governor.
“I was surprised when I was told that the President had appointed me as the new Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister. I came knowing that the province has problems. But I will be equal to the task.
“I will ask Cde Hungwe to help me as I cannot tackle them alone. It takes all of us to solve the problems. My aim is to take Masvingo back to its prime position in the country,” she said at her welcome rally at Benjamin Burombo building which houses her office and several other government departments.
After just a few days in office, Mahofa ordered that her office be moved from the second to the ground floor because she could not climb the stairs due to old age and ill health.
What is emerging is that even in that less glamorous floor, Mahofa is proving she remains the ‘Iron Lady’ of the province.
Only time will tell if the former long-serving Gutu South MP, with 22 years working in government, will leave some useful landmarks in Masvingo province.